I am proud to be a member of a department that has led Northwest Coast research for decades and which is currently engaged in cutting-edge, ethical, and forward-thinking research.

Dr. Bryn Letham receives 2020 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr. Bryn Letham is awarded a 2020 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship to pursue research in the Faculty of Environment. On behalf of SFU, we congratulate Dr. Letham as well as all Banting Postdoctoral Fellows on their outstanding achievements.

July 10, 2020
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Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of ArchaeologyFaculty of Environment

I'm an archaeologist working primarily on the Northwest Coast of North America (though also participating in projects in Jordan and soon Cyprus). I was born in Salmon Arm in the interior of British Columbia, though fell in love with the peoples and landscapes of the west coast as a child during family camping trips. My research now has me fully engaged with those peoples and landscapes; I reconstruct ancient coastlines and study long-term histories of human settlement on these transforming shores.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE SFU?

I first started working with Dr. Dana Lepofsky from SFU Archaeology while I was finishing my PhD at UBC. I was helping out on a project with her in the Douglas Channel in collaboration with the Gitga'at First Nation that was in its early phases, and she encouraged me to apply for a post-doc to join the team more permanently. I hadn't really even considered post-docs at that time, but the prospect of continuing work with the Gitga'at and with SFU Archaeology - a Department with a long legacy of foundational Northwest Coast Archaeological research - was a no-brainer.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RESEARCH?

My work strives to employ cutting-edge scientific methods from archaeology and related disciplines (geology, geochemistry, ecology, etc.) to address the joint desires of Western scientists and coastal Indigenous communities. Specifically, I reconstruct long-term histories of human settlement on the dynamic coasts of western North America and explore how and why people choose to live in particular places for thousands of years, even if the landscapes around these places changes significantly. I use geological methods to study how sea level has changed since the end of the last Ice Age in order to model how shorelines have changed through time. Understanding past shoreline positions can help us predict where people may have been living deeper into the past so that we can then go out and search for archaeological remains in those locations. This approach is essential for searching for the earliest evidence of human occupation on the coast, but sea level change has transformed coastlines for all of human history in the area.

Additionally, however, I am interested in how people themselves have modified coastlines. Ancient peoples physically invested in areas by modifying beaches and building up mounds of shell (often meters deep) on which they lived. I believe this human engagement with the active coast played an important part in how coastal societies developed relations with the land and certain aspects of political organization.

Understanding the deep time depth of occupation and land use is important for Western scientists striving to understand early peopling of the continent and the effects of climate change on coasts and coastal communities. It is also of fundamental importance to First Nations striving for territorial rights in the face of colonial institutions that have dispossessed them from their lands and downplayed the significance of their histories and cultural legacies. Furthermore, my research is relevant to any coastal communities in general facing depleting coastal resources and global sea level rise and looking for ways to enhance resilience and sustainability through learning from the past and from Indigenous knowledge.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH AT SFU?

SFU offers a vibrant community of researchers and I have enjoyed being welcomed into the fold both in my Department and in related Departments. My colleagues have been incredibly welcoming and supportive, and the archaeology labs are excellent. I am proud to be a member of a department that has led Northwest Coast research for decades and which is currently engaged in cutting-edge, ethical, and forward-thinking research that will surely be at the forefront for years to come.

HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF ANY MAJOR OR DONOR FUNDED AWARDS?

In addition to a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, my current research is funded by a National Geographic Early Career Grant, a Wenner-Gren Post-PhD Research Grant, a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, and generous in-kind contributions from the Gitga'at Nation.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?

Contact Bryn: bryn_letham@sfu.ca